Edith Pargeter

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Edith Pargeter
Ellis Peters.jpg
BornEdith Mary Pargeter
28 September 1913
Horsehay, Shropshire, England
Died14 October 1995 (aged 82)
Madeley, Shropshire, England
Pen nameEllis Peters; John Redfern; Jolyon Carr; Peter Benedict
EducationDawley Church of England School; Coalbrookdale High School for Girls
Genrehistorical fiction; mysteries; nonfiction works about Shrewsbury; translations from the Czech
Notable works"The Brother Cadfael Chronicles"; the George Felse mysteries; the "Heaven Tree" trilogy
Notable awardsOBE; British Crime Writers Association; Mystery Writers of America

Edith Mary Pargeter, OBE, BEM (28 September 1913 – 14 October 1995), also known by her nom de plume Ellis Peters, was an English author of works in many categories, especially history and historical fiction, and was also honoured for her translations of Czech classics; she is probably best known for her murder mysteries, both historical and modern. She is well known for her medieval-detective series The Cadfael Chronicles.


Pargeter was born in the village of Horsehay (Shropshire, England). Her father was a clerk at a local ironworks. She was educated at Dawley Church of England School and the old Coalbrookdale High School for Girls.[1] She had Welsh ancestry, and many of her short stories and books (both fictional and non-fictional) are set in Wales and its borderlands, or have Welsh protagonists.

During World War II, she worked in an administrative role in the Women's Royal Naval Service (the "Wrens") and had reached the rank of petty officer by 1 January 1944 when she was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in the New Year Honours.[2]

In 1947 Pargeter visited Czechoslovakia and became fascinated by the Czech language and culture. She became fluent in Czech and published award-winning translations of Czech poetry and prose into English.[3]

Writing career[edit]

She devoted the rest of her life to writing, both nonfiction and well-researched fiction. She never attended university but became a self-taught scholar in areas that interested her, especially Shropshire and Wales. Birmingham University gave her an honorary master's degree. She never married, but did fall in love with a Czech man. She remained friends with him after he married another woman.[4] She was pleased that she could support herself with her writing from the time after the Second World War until her death.[4]

Pargeter wrote under a number of pseudonyms; it was under the name Ellis Peters that she wrote her later crime stories, especially the highly popular series of Brother Cadfael medieval mysteries, a Benedictine monk at the Abbey in Shrewsbury. That pseudonym was drawn from the name of her brother, Ellis, and a version of the name of the daughter of friends, Petra.[4] Many of the novels were made into films for television. Although she won her first award for a novel written in 1963, her greatest fame and sales came with the Cadfael Chronicles, which began in 1977. At the time of the 19th in the series of 20 novels, sales exceeded 6.5 million.[4] The Cadfael Chronicles drew international attention to Shrewsbury and its history, and greatly increased tourism to the town. In an interview in 1993, she mentioned her own work before the Second World War as a chemist's assistant, where they prepared many of the compounds they sold. "We used to make bottled medicine that we compounded specially, with ingredients like gentian, rosemary, horehound. You never see that nowadays; those tinctures are never prescribed. They often had bitters of some sort in them, a taste I rather liked. Some of Cadfael’s prescriptions come out of those years."[5]

Her Cadfael novels show great appreciation for the ideals of medieval Catholic Christianity, but also a recognition of its weaknesses, such as quarrels over the finer points of theology (The Heretic's Apprentice), and the desire of the church to own more and more land and wealth (Monk's Hood, Saint Peter's Fair, The Rose Rent).


She died at her home in Madeley, Shropshire in 1995 at the age of 82. She had recently returned home from hospital following a stroke. On 14 September 1997, a new stained glass window depicting St Benedict was installed in Shrewsbury Abbey and was dedicated to the memory of Edith Pargeter, with funds raised by donations from admirers of the author.[6][7][8]


The Mystery Writers of America gave Pargeter their Edgar Award in 1963 for Death and the Joyful Woman. In 1980, the British Crime Writers Association awarded her the Silver Dagger for Monk's Hood. In 1993 she won the Cartier Diamond Dagger, an annual award given by the CWA to authors who have made an outstanding lifetime's contribution to the field of crime and mystery writing. Pargeter was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) "for services to Literature" in the 1994 New Year Honours.[9] To commemorate Pargeter's life and work, in 1999 the CWA established their Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award (later called the Ellis Peters Historical Award) for the best historical crime novel of the year.[10][11]

Pargeter's Cadfael Chronicles are often credited for popularizing what would later become known as the historical mystery.[12][13]


As Edith Pargeter[edit]

The Heaven Tree Trilogy[edit]

  • The Heaven Tree (1960)
  • The Green Branch (1962) (1230 William De Braose, a Norman Marcher Lord was hanged for an affair with Joan, lady of Wales, the wife of Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth.)
  • The Scarlet Seed (1963)

The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet[edit]

Four novels about Llewelyn the Last:

  • Sunrise in the West (1974)
  • The Dragon at Noonday (1975)
  • The Hounds of Sunset (1976)
  • Afterglow and Nightfall (1977)

Jim Benison a.k.a. World War 2 Trilogy[edit]

  • The Eighth Champion of Christendom (1945)
  • Reluctant Odyssey (1946)
  • Warfare Accomplished (1947)


  • Hortensius, Friend of Nero (1936)
  • Iron-Bound (1936)
  • The City Lies Four-Square (1939)
  • Ordinary People (1941) (a.k.a. People of My Own)
  • She Goes to War (1942)
  • The Fair Young Phoenix (1948)
  • By Firelight (1948) (US title: By This Strange Fire)
  • The Coast of Bohemia (1950) (non-fiction: an account of a journey in Czechoslovakia)
  • Lost Children (1951)
  • Holiday With Violence (1952)
  • Most Loving Mere Folly (1953)
  • The Rough Magic (1953)
  • The Soldier at the Door (1954)
  • A Means of Grace (1956)
  • The Assize of the Dying (1958) (short stories)
  • The Lily Hand and other stories (1965)
  • A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury (1972) (US title: The Bloody Field)
  • The Marriage of Meggotta (1979) (about Margaret de Burgh, daughter of Hubert de Burgh, 2nd earl of Kent, who saved Prince Arthur the first time King John tried to have him killed)

Uncollected short stories[edit]

Brambleridge Tales[edit]

  • Late Apple Harvest Everywoman's, October 1938
  • Poppy Juice Everywoman's, November 1938
  • Christmas Roses Everywoman's, December 1938
  • Under the Big Top Everywoman's, January 1939
  • Meet of the Clear Water Hunt Everywoman's, February 1939
  • Lambs in the Meadow Everywoman's, March 1939
  • April Foolishness Everywoman's, April 1939
  • Happy Ending Everywoman's, May 1939


  • Mightiest in the Mightiest. Everywoman's, March 1936
  • Ere I Forget Thee. Everywoman's, July 1936
  • Coronation Stairs. Everywoman's, March 1937
  • Santa Claus Would Understand. Everywoman's, December 1937
  • Wrong Turning. Everywoman's, April 1938
  • Forty-Eight Hours Leave. Everywoman's, December 1939
  • A Girl of Indiscretion. John Bull, 19 October 1953
  • ’’Young Man with a Pram’’. Australian Women’s Weekly, 2 October 1957

As Ellis Peters[edit]

George Felse and Family[edit]

  • Fallen into the Pit (1951) (originally published under her own name)
  • Death and the Joyful Woman (1961) (Edgar Award for Best Novel, 1963)
  • Flight of a Witch (1964)
  • A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs (1965) (US title: Who Lies Here?)
  • The Piper on the Mountain (1966)
  • Black is the Colour of my True Love's Heart (1967)
  • The Grass-Widow's Tale (1968)
  • The House of Green Turf (1969)
  • Mourning Raga (1969)
  • The Knocker on Death's Door (1970)
  • Death to the Landlords! (1972)
  • City of Gold and Shadows (1973)
  • Rainbow's End (1978)

Brother Cadfael[edit]


  • Death Mask (1959)
  • The Will and the Deed (1960) (US title: Where There's a Will)
  • Funeral of Figaro (1962)
  • The Horn of Roland (1974)
  • Never Pick Up Hitchhikers! (1976)
  • Shropshire (non-fiction, with Roy Morgan) (1992) ISBN 978-0-86299-996-4[17]
  • Strongholds and Sanctuaries : The Borderland of England and Wales (non-fiction, with Roy Morgan) (1993) ISBN 978-0747278542
  • The Trinity Cat and Other Mysteries (Crippen & Landru, 2006) (short stories

As John Redfern[edit]

  • The Victim Needs a Nurse (c.1940)

As Jolyon Carr[edit]


  • Murder in the Dispensary (1938)
  • Freedom for Two (1939)
  • Masters of the Parachute Mail (1940)
  • Death Comes by Post (1940)

Uncollected short stories[edit]

  • Come In - and Welcome Everywoman's, January 1938

As Peter Benedict[edit]

  • Day Star (1937)


  1. ^ This and other First Edition offerings indicate 1983 for the Macmillan edition[15]


  1. ^ "Edith Pargeter, author". Goodreads. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  2. ^ "No. 36309". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 1943. p. 28.
  3. ^ "In Profile: Edith Pargeter". BBC - Shropshire. July 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d Biederman, Patricia Ward (March 18, 1993). "A Woman of Mystery : Fans Sleuth Out the English Creator of Tales of a Medieval Monk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  5. ^ Cranch, Robbie (January 1993). "Mystery in the Garden: Interview with Ellis Peters". Mother Earth Living. Topeka, Kansas. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  6. ^ "Visit Shrewsbury". Archived from the original on 9 May 2008.
  7. ^ "Shrewsbury Abbey". Shrewsbury, the original one-off. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  8. ^ "The Literator: INSIDE PUBLISHING". The Independent. 6 July 1997. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  9. ^ "No. 53527". The London Gazette. 30 December 1993. p. 13.
  10. ^ "The CWA Dagger Awards". theCWA.co.uk. Archived from the original on 23 July 2012. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  11. ^ "The CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger". theCWA.co.uk. Archived from the original on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  12. ^ Picker, Lenny (March 3, 2010). "Mysteries of History". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved November 13, 2013.
  13. ^ Rivkin Jr., David B. (February 27, 2010). "Five Best Historical Mystery Novels". WSJ.com. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  14. ^ "The Sanctuary Sparrow". 1982.
  15. ^ First Edition of The Sanctuary Sparrow.
  16. ^ "The Hermit of Eyton Forest".
  17. ^ "Shropshire". Sutton Publishing. Retrieved 27 May 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Fullbrook, Kate. 2004; 2015. Pargeter, Edith Mary [pseud. Ellis Peters]. In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/60439
  • Howard, H. Wendell. 2008. "The World of Brother Cadfael." Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 11 (1):149-162. doi: 10.1353/log.2008.0005.
  • Kaler, Anne K., ed. Cordially Yours, Brother Cadfael. Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1998. ISBN 0879727748 ISBN 978-0879727741
  • Lewis, Margaret. Edith Pargeter: Ellis Peters. Rev.2d ed. Bridgend, Wales: Seren, 2003. ISBN 1854113291 ISBN 978-1854113290
  • Mylod, Carol Kennedy. Medievalism, moral vision, and detection in Ellis Peters's chronicles of Brother Cadfael. Thesis, Doctor of Arts, St. John's University (New York), 1996.
  • Rielly, Edward J. Ellis Peters: Brother Cadfael. In The Detective as Historian: History and Art in Historical Crime Fiction, edited by R. B. Browne, Lawrence A., J. Kreiser and R. W. Winks. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.
  • Songer, Marcia J. "The Ultimate Penance of Brother Cadfael." CLUES: A Journal of Detection 23.4 (Summer 2005): 63-68
  • Spencer, William David. "Welsh Angel in Fallen England: Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael." In Mysterium and Mystery: The Clerical Crime Novel, p. 61-70. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992. Original edition, Th.D. Thesis, Boston University School of Theology, 1986. ISBN 0809318091 ISBN 978-0809318094
  • Wunderlich, Werner. 1995. "Monastic Thrillers: Detecting Postmodernity in the Middle Ages." Comparative Literature Studies 32 (3):382-400.

External links[edit]